So I’ve told you that my favorite author is Amy Hempel, right? Let me share with you what is possibly my second favorite author (though it’s a tight knit cluster towards the top of great literature, the post modernist), Don Delillo.
I’ll make this simple and easy…
Name: Don Delillo.
Born: November 20, 1936 in New York.
Died: Thankfully not yet. He’s 72.
Best known novel: Either White Noise or Underworld.
Last published novel: Falling Man, about a survivor of 9/11. The title, of course, is based on this classic image:
Which is entitled “The Falling Man” and was taken by Richard Drew at 9:41 AM on September 11, 2001.
Next novel: Omega Point is the title, which is… so very intriguing. It’ll be his 15th novel. It’s scheduled for release in February, 2010, which is too far away.
Plot description: “A young filmmaker visits the desert home of a secret war adviser in the hopes of making a documentary. The situation is complicated by the arrival of the older man’s daughter, and the narrative takes a dark turn.”
Things that primarily inspire him: “Abstract expressionism, foreign films, and jazz.” Also, the things we do to history. And the things that history does to us in return.
Themes he likes/keeps returning to in his work: rampant consumerism, novelty intellectualism, underground conspiracies, the disintegration and re-integration of the family, and the promise of rebirth through violence (from wikipedia, but wikipedia is right). Also, mass media pollution, the collision and interchangeability of words and images, and the draining of meaning and context from an event as our lives are filled up with more and more simulacra.
Writers who cite him as a major influence: Bret Easton Ellis, Jonathan Franzen, and David Foster Wallace.
His place in the world: Harold Bloom has named him as one of the four major novelists of his time, the other three being Cormac McCarthy, Thomas Pynchon, and Phillip Roth.
His humble beginnings: The world of advertising. He wrote image ads for Sears Roebuck amongst others but eventually quit to start his writing career, including his first novel.
About the start of his writing career, he said: “I did some short stories at that time, but very infrequently. I quit my job just to quit. I didn’t quit my job to write fiction. I just didn’t want to work anymore.”
Forays into film: Only one screenplay so far, for a film entitled Game 6, about the 1986 World Series. The script was written in the 90s, but the film (I don’t know when it was actually produced) came out in 2006, and stars Michael Keaton (who would later go on to do a shitty looking thriller entitled White Noise that has nothing to do with the Delillo book), Griffin Dunne, and Robert Downey, jr. and has a score by Yo La Tengo. The story is classic Delillo.
Theatre: He’s written four plays, two of which, The Day Room and Valparaiso, I’m happy to say I own and have read. The other two, Love-Lies-Bleeding and The Word For Snow, I have not yet.
Just a few of his awards: The National Book Award (for White Noise) and the Jerusalem Prize, which is given to writers who deal with the themes of human freedom, society, politics, and government. And he also won the 2009 Common Wealth Award for Literature.
The first line of Underworld: “He speaks in your voice, American, and there’s a shine in his eye that’s halfway hopeful.” The opening prologue of the book was also released as it’s own novella, with the separate title, Pafko At The Wall.
Some real talk from White Noise: “All plots move deathwards.”
Musical name checks: Conor Oberst/Bright Eyes, Rhett Miller, Luna, and a band called Too Much Joy. Also, the band called The Airborne Toxic Event got their band name from White Noise.
The first line of Great Jones Street: “Fame requires every kind of excess.”
Don Delillo, as depicted by Brian Wood. From here.
One of my favorite quotes from his books #1: “I don’t want your candor. I want your soul in a silver thimble.”
Fictionalized version of him: blogs for The Onion covering last year’s election.
His three favorite things: “Silence, exile, and cunning. And so on.” Also, paraphrasing James Joyce.
The criticism: There’s been a lot. While there can be no argument that Delillo is a smarter author than a large majority out there, many would say that his books tend towards being over stylized and perhaps a bit intellectually shallow. I think that argument is fair in certain cases.
More criticism: George Will described Delillo’s Libra, which is a study of Lee Harvey Oswald, as “sandbox existentialism,” and then added that the book is an act of “literary vandalism and bad citizenship.”
Delillo’s response to Will: “I don’t take it seriously, but being called a ‘bad citizen’ is a compliment to a novelist, at least to my mind. That’s exactly what we ought to do. We ought to be bad citizens. We ought to, in the sense that we’re writing against what power represents, and often what government represents, and what the corporation dictates, and what consumer consciousness has come to mean. In that sense, if we’re bad citizen, we’re doing our job.”
One of my favorite quotes from his books #2: “History is the sum total of the things they aren’t telling us.” So true.
One of my favorite passages from his books: “I went out on the terrace. Automobiles were moving across Central Park, ticking red taillights trailing each other north and west and toward the darkness and the river, headlights coming this way, soft orange, the whistling doormen. The park’s lamplights were dull cold steady silver. I was wasting my life.” From Americana, his first novel.
What he’s said about his first novel: “It’s no accident that my first novel was called Americana. This was a private declaration of independence, a statement of my intention to use the whole picture, the whole culture. America was and is the immigrant’s dream, and as the son of two immigrants I was attracted by the sense of possibility that had drawn my grandparents and parents.”
The above quote was from an interview that was referenced on a great site about the author: Don Delillo’s America. It’s a really good resource about the author.
Where’s a good place to start with Delillo: White Noise. Start there and enjoy it. Read about the book here and here and here.
One last thing, how is “Delillo pronounced?” Like this: Duh Lih Lo.
One last great quote from Don Delillo: “Years ago I use to think it was possible for novelist to alter the inner life of the culture. Now bomb-makers and gunmen have taken that territory. They make raids on humn consciousness. What writers used to do before we were all incorporated.”